If you want to develop your career or business, you need to ensure your voice is heard.
It doesn’t matter how talented you are if no one ever hears from you and you sit silently in business meetings without contributing.
But, for many people, speaking up doesn’t come naturally. So, here are ten tips to help you get your voice heard:
1. Be selective
Skilled performers know when best to contribute as well as how best to contribute. They have a sense of timing that ensures they contribute without being disruptive.
2. Be concise
Teams and groups that work well tend to share the distribution of airtime, with no one person dominating more than another. A big contributor to this efficiency is the ability to ‘get in’ to the conversation, say what you need to say, and then ‘get out’. This can be a challenge for extroverts, who can sometimes turn on the communication tap and provide a steady, unstoppable flow. For introverts, who prefer to reflect on content before speaking, it means that oftentimes the conversation has moved on before they’re ready to speak. Being mindful of your personal style and the levels of participation across the group are fundamental to improving your performance and the success of the group.
3. Vary your contributions
The default inputs in meetings fall into a category of behaviour known as Giving Information. This includes making statements of fact and giving an opinion or reasons. Research into effective meeting behaviours has revealed a number of more effective alternatives, some of which are outlined below:
If you don’t have anything to add to the subject under discussion, you can help the entire meeting by summarising key points at regular intervals. In studies on skilful behaviours across a range of work situations, summarising regularly shows up as a helpful, yet relatively uncommon, behaviour. One of the reasons it’s rare is because to summarise accurately you have to be a good listener and attend to the contributions of others.
A behaviour label is a device that announces the behaviour you’re going to use next. For example: ‘Can I just ask a question?’, followed by a question, or ‘I’d like to add some information here’, followed by giving information. Labelling helps to command the attention of the other people in the meeting and create space for you to say your piece and be heard.
6. Shutting Out
Sometimes, to get into a conversation, you have to steal the airtime from another person. This is a behaviour known as Shutting Out. If you’re reluctant to speak out in a meeting, your attempts at using this behaviour will likely be ineffective.
This is a behaviour used by the most skilful individuals. Building behaviour is defined as ‘adding to or modifying a proposal or suggestion made by another person’. In a meeting this might sound like:
Proposal: I’d like to spend some time looking at those figures
Build: Maybe we could get Sam to talk you through them
Like Summarising, Building relies on your ability to listen. Done authentically, Building also demonstrates that your interest lies with the people generating the ideas, rather than competing with your own ideas. This is why effective ‘builders’ are often described as helpful.
Reacting behaviours are the way we let other people know how we respond to what they have said. The two most common reacting behaviours are Supporting and Disagreeing. If you have a low count on both you may be what the researchers call a ‘Low Reactor’. Such a person can often have a negative or destabilising effect on a group because others find it hard to judge where they’re coming from. So rather than set the group on edge, use Supporting and Disagreeing as a way of being heard. When you like an idea or agree with something someone has said, say so. When you aren’t convinced, let people know. Skilled performers support and disagree in equal measure. With Disagreeing, be sure to state your reasons first and then your disagreement.
9. Ask questions
If there is one mantra I would like to resonate around the walls of corporate meeting rooms, it’s this: Give less, Ask more, Ask better. The intent is to help you build your interactions around inquiry. Being curious rather than judgmental is one of the most powerful ways to ensure you are heard and to build the relationships that will help you towards success. Ask people for their ideas, their thoughts and their reactions: ‘How do you think we should do this’, ‘What’s your basis for saying that?’, ‘How do you feel about what’s been discussed so far?’. Questions also help to provide clarity in the meeting, ensuring people leave with the same level of understanding.
10. Develop influencing styles
To influence without authority requires a skilful use of the ‘Pull’ style of persuasion. This is characterised by three behaviours: Seeking Proposals, Building, and Seeking Information. However, if time is short, you’re the expert, or you’re happy to go with compliance rather than commitment then you will need to master a ‘Push’ style of persuasion. Here the dominant behaviours are Proposing ideas and Giving Information. Being heard in business is helped by choosing the style that best fits the situation and exercising it skilfully.
Building your awareness of these tactics and taking opportunities to practice will help you build new behavioural muscle, to raise your skill level and your profile.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ally Yates is author of Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business and an expert on Behaviour Analysis and the interactions that define us. She combines a deep understanding of people and how to achieve results, based on her many years’ experience working with large corporate clients around the world.